October 30, 2021

Did you miss me? Something came up…twice…

This week’s art and words just sort of came to me as I walked into the Descanso Gardens with my stealth sketching bag last Sunday. I knew the Descanso would be replete with Halloween decor for their evening “Carved” events. And as I wasn’t wandering around there this time last year, I wanted to check it out in all its splendor. It was really pretty terrific to see even in the daylight! They had gourds and pumpkins aplenty on the ground and wired to arbors. Quite a few of said fall fruits had been attacked by squirrels and the like, and their guts had been hollowed out very cleanly and completely. I even encountered a squirrel digging through a hole in a pumpkin—chowing down on all those lovely gooey seeds. They didn’t seem too worried that I was standing close by. I continued on my journey through the Descanso, looking for all things cute and/or spooky. On my last visit (October 9, 2021) I did a watercolor of the jack-o-lantern bird houses. Looking at that planter area again it seemed as though 50, or more, had been added—very cute. There were huge bugs (a spider, a dragon fly etc.) made from branches and pumpkins, stationed under the oaks in the oak woodland. But my favorite was a grouping of creepy spirits made from branches and bits of fabric and string. They looked as though they were coming up out of the ground, hiding behind a tree and chasing each other around on a grassy area. I can only imagine how they might appear to come to life at night, with strategic lighting. As you can see, I didn’t draw any of that. Instead, I found myself sitting on a bench near the pumpkin house. It was there on the 9th, but it didn’t really wow me at the time. But wait, I did come up with a reason to sketch the little organic cottage for that day’s sketching adventure. As I was walking around, looking at everything else, an idea bubbled up from somewhere and took the form of a pair of sketches of that holiday pumpkin house surrounded by hay bales. I wanted to see what kind of difference in detail or rendering I would get sketching the exact same view, one while sitting on a bench on the spot and the other from a photo of the same scene sometime later. So, I endured the screaming children, live, for this one. It was fun! Then, using the exact same materials and colors I did the identical view from a photo at home that afternoon. Here it is!

I guess they really look pretty similar, but of course there were different people and different sounds. For this “at home version” it was amazingly quiet, except for the sounds of Bille Holiday singing in the background. This one was fun too! I don’t know if one is more successful than the other. I must say that for the “on location” sketch I was having some real trouble getting the oxblood ink to flow, and the lines were a little more on the “scratchy side than I wanted. But at home I had no such technical difficulties with the Fude pen nib and/or the ink flow. I guess the biggest difference was the feeling of being in the moment for the first sketch and how much I thought about that first experience while doing the second one. There were immediate comparisons for this one. For the first sketch I got involved in a couple conversations with passers by, while no such distractions occurred at home. Two different groups of women stopped to chat and look at my art. The first couple stopped, took my picture and promised not to post the pic online or anything. They were very curious to see if I had captured the woman yelling at her daughter. (I guess the little girl had managed to jiggle free one of the pumpkins from the house and was trying to take it home.) Then there was a grandma, mom and young girl who stopped by. That was fun as I could see the yearning and “art eyes” of the little girl. I know if it weren’t for the pandemic she would have sat right next to me on the bench to draw. Mom and grandma were very interested in my materials and mom took a photo of my tin of Derwent Inktense pencils. I told them they should go on a field trip to an art store and just wander around. That was very pleasant.

But what struck me about both images, while I sat at home, was how much the pumpkin house reminded me of the witches house in Hansel and Gretel. I think that all started when I heard a child had tried to steal a pumpkin right off the house. But in my story the witch is the mom, yelling at her kid for trying to take away something that didn’t belong to her. You see the connection too, right? I could almost imagine it was covered in large round candies, instead of so many colorful pumpkins. The roof would be made out of cotton candy and not straw. And instead of hay bales, there would be stacks and stacks of giant s’mores—marshmallow, chocolate and graham crackers. Oh yeah, there’s one more piece of One CA Girl crazy to add to this spooky scenario. For this second view there was a woman, directly in the middle here, and she really looked the part of a witch—black clothing, long white hair and a cap that made me think of a long “witchy” nose. I think that’s enough. I’m done!

Happy Halloween!!

October 9, 2021

On September 25th I went to the Descanso Gardens with the explicit intention of doing a watercolor. That meant I would have to take a bigger backpack, as my usual stealth bag is too small and wouldn’t work for the occasion. That morning I put everything I might need in a more traditional backpack, one with lots of zippers and sections for lots of supplies. 

As I walked in the entrance I was immediately taken with the “fall” changes that had occurred. Gone were the vestiges of summer flowers and butterflies. If you read my story and art from last time, you will know that big changes had been planned and were coming, and it was clear they were getting ready for their evening holiday events. However, last time the workers were just laying the cable for the myriad of lights that would be needed for the evening enjoyment of future visitors. But on the 25th, all the cable had been safely placed around. All seemed ready for their first event, and included a house made of pumpkins and the Lock Ness Monster in the front pond made entirely of pumpkins and gourds.

If you were to ask me, “What’s your favorite season of the year?” I would have to say that fall is definitely my fav. I absolutely love that seasonal change. As the sun is not beating down from overhead, it means the daylight is changing and softening. And I love love love that we will soon go back to standard time. The temperatures are definitely cooler, especially at night. OMG!! We had rain on Monday—rain with thunder and lightning. It was wonderful! And just the other day I noticed the white crown sparrows, my non-summer birds, had returned to my SoCal bird feeder. I love knowing that they have been on their way, somehow making it here again and right on time. (I have already shared my art and a story about them. See May 21, 2017). So, what’s your favorite season?

Back at the Descanso on the 25th…

As I rounded the corner, just outside the rose garden, I came upon this view. I had seen the same display of funky jack-o-lantern light boxes in the same planting area last year. I also did a watercolor of the same jumble of plants/flowers and funny faces. (See the October 17, 2020 art and story.) I knew I wanted to do another watercolor of the scene, but from another vantage point. So, I sat at a nearby bench, made a preliminary sketch and began mixing my pots of color. It was heavenly! There is a big advantage to sitting to do a watercolor over my quick sketches. For my watercolor events I sit in one place for a longer period of time as I have to wait for various areas of the watercolor paper to dry. That means I can eat a snack or even visit with a friendly passer by or two. In fact, that’s exactly what happened—two lovely women came by and we had the best conversation, covering a myriad of topics. Wonderful!

One final note about this display…

It’s kind of crazy, but once Halloween is over, they rip everything out of this planter. Then they fill it with a spectacular bed of glass tulips that will put on a rather dazzling light display for the Enchanted Forest of Light. The lights flash and change color with musical accompaniment. Check it out…descansogardens.org

And one final note about this fall…

I guess the biggest SoCal fall 2021 story for this one CA girl will come on October 18th. You may be wondering what is so special about that date. LAUSD, my employer, has mandated that all teachers/staff must have had the first COVID vaccine by 10/15/2021 and the second one by 11/15—no exceptions. I’ve been vaccinated, but have heard there are others who have not. Not sure what the 18th will look like, and who will be on campus that day. If you hear about us in the news, I hope it’s good news. Stay tuned.

October 2, 2021

As I wandered around the Descanso Gardens last summer (Ha! 9/19/2021), I didn’t really have much of an idea of what I wanted to sketch. I was horrified with the sign of aphids on the milkweed, and just had to walk away. But I was also distracted with the number of workers wandering around the garden. And there were numerous large boxes filled with electrical gear all around as well. I imagined they were laying cable for all the lights that would be needed for the upcoming holiday evening events—Carved and Enchanted Forest of Light. It turns out I was right, as there were signs all around the worker’s trucks and beside the garden paths, alerting us to their intent. Actually, I kind of marvel at that kind of advertising, don’t you? I imagine that such signage is meant to alert everyone of the long black electrical cables winding their way around the paths—a rather daunting safety hazard I think. But it also reminded me that there are those of us who have attended either one or both events in the past, and we should think about buying our tickets for the 2021 holiday season. And for those who had never attended either event, it might peek their curiosity to find out more about what they might be missing. Eventually,  I kind forgot all about the aphids, workers and massive spaghetti lines of cable, and wandered into the rose garden. I often head straight for the arbor area that was patterned after Monet’s garden arbor archway. It’s very similar to his arbor of  climbing roses and other flowering plants in Giverny. I’m not sure if the roses in Monet’s garden are one’s that he actually planted in the late 1800’s, but they are covered with roses and other climbing plants today. The gardeners at the Descanso have planted some older varieties of roses in their arbor garden area. I discovered the age of some of these varieties one day, when I’d stopped to read the descriptions posted by each one. My favorite old rose is at the farthest end of the arbor, near the rest rooms that look like a charming cottage. (I love that!) That particular climbing rose variety was introduced to the world in 1811 (Rosa ‘Champney’s Pink Cluster’). Not sure why that old rose fascinates me so much. But I love it when I find clusters of those flowers just blooming their little hearts out. And it makes me wonder if that lovely old fashioned perfume is exactly what others first smelled in 1811. (Oh, I learned that if you bend down to smell a charming rose and burp just as you take a sniff, you won’t smell a thing. And of course you will not smell a thing if you are laughing when you try to take a whiff. It’s true. I can tell you that first hand.) If you really look at these older roses, you might notice how much smaller they are compared to most rose cultivars from the 20th and 21st centuries. Also, the colors of those old roses seem to be much more muted and tend to be some variation of pink. 

As I turned around to look for a spot to maybe sketch the heirloom rose, I spied this charming squirrel statue in the nearby maze garden for tiny children. It’s funny, but I a rarely go into the maze for tiny children as it seems there are often unattended tiny children running around in there. But I came face to face with this guy and decided to sketch him—both of us standing there “bold as brass.” I was ready to bolt if any tiny children, without their handlers, appeared on the scene. I felt sorry for the squirrel as he or she was rooted to the spot and would not be running away from anything any time soon.

So for this one, I sat beside a tiny creek that runs through the rose garden. And not only did I sit by this bit of moving water, I dipped my brush right into that water as it moved slowly past. I felt very bold. And there were even a couple tiny well behaved children who stopped by to see what I was doing. It was nice. I liked that!

As I peacefully sat there, watching those hummingbirds from afar, I couldn’t help thinking how much my application of pigment to paper puts me into a kind of familiar echo chamber. You might be wondering what I mean. I will try to explain. The echoes I am referring to might be the repeated use of a color. Or it might be the commitment to a certain line to indicate leaves or flowers or even a random squirrel statue in a maze garden for tiny children. It might also be a nod to composition as I try to include/repeat similar shapes. I guess it doesn’t work for me to make everything I render a one of a kind, unless I am focusing on one tree, one lamp post, one building and/or one squirrel. Is this any clearer? I also like the idea that even though I am repeating line, color and/or composition, what I sketch/paint is a single point in time. So, every time I repeat something on the page, it will never look that same again. From sketch to sketch, day to day and even season to season. It will always be something new. I like that! As you may already know, you can make a repeat visit to a place, but it will never be exactly the same as you remember. All those echoes are different, every time. And I love that!

BTW…about last Saturday’s post…something came up. It was my birthday, and I enjoyed a lovely unplanned day. Of course I went to the Descanso Gardens! Stay tuned.